Grace Kelly: Style Icon

The Victoria & Albert Museum is currently hosting an exhibition gathering some of the key pieces of Grace Kelly’s amazing wardrobe. The American actress, who later became Princess of Monaco, stays in our minds and memories as one of the most fascinating style icons. Her love for simple cuts and her natural sense of elegance gave rise to a unique and timeless style, the perfect balance between American classic and Parisian chic. 

The exhibition is cleverly designed, following Grace Kelly’s style from her early years as a glamorous Hollywood actress to her life as the Princess of Monaco, until around the 70’s. The first part, ‘The Actress’, displays some dresses from her acting carrier. The sublime black chiffon dress she wore in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’, in 1954, is on display, alongside three costumes designed by MGM’s designer, Helen Rose, for her performance in ‘High Society’ (1956). One of these costumes is a Grecian-style bathing robe, in nude silk crepe with an amazing drape and impeccable fall, we would all die for today. Timeless elegance.

The middle section, ‘The Bride’, is about her first meeting, then engagement and wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The couple met in May 1955, during a photo shoot organised by the French magazine Paris Match for the Cannes Film Festival. Among the garments displayed is the floral silk taffeta dress she wore for this first meeting. This dress, described later as ‘Dior inspired’ is actually an ‘easy-to-sew’ model from a McCall’s Pattern book. Due to a power cut at the hotel she was staying in, the dress she was to wear couldn’t be ironed and she had to pick up the only one that didn’t need ironing, a floral model she modelled for the magazine.  Also on display are the dress she wore for the announcement of her engagement to Prince Rainier and the lace bodice and skirt of their civil marriage ceremony in 1956.

The third and final section, ‘The Princess’, examines how Grace Kelly’s sense of style developed in her new role as Princess of Monaco. Some incredible haute couture gowns are presented there, creations by Chanel – including an impeccable 1966 coat dress -and Balenciaga, the famous ‘Mondrian’ dress by Yves St-Laurent and several dresses by Christian Dior. One of these dresses,  ‘La Bayadere’, named after a Hindu Temple dancer, central figure of the 1877 ballet of the same name, was one of Princess Grace’s favourites and she wore it on several occasions. This is another remarkable thing about her. While so many celebrities would rather be caught dead than wearing the same outfit twice, she used to recycle her favourite dresses. She had style and didn’t need to prove anything.  A total of eight dresses by Marc Bohan for Christian Dior are on display, all indisputably outstanding and revealing Princess Grace’s taste for simpler cuts even with more formally dresses.

Along with a selection of her hats and short white gloves, the exhibition features some of Grace Kelly’s pieces of jewellery, all from Van Cleef & Arpels, who supports the  exhibition. A great admirer of the French jeweller, she became a true muse of the Maison a few days after her engagement, when Prince Rainier chose for her the famous pearl and diamond necklace and ear clips in New York.

Other highlights of the exhibition include the original Hermes ‘Kelly’ bag and a wool jersey dress by Madame Grès, dated 1972, with an impeccable cut and austere shades. Nearby the dress is a photograph showing the Princess wearing it with just a statement necklace, and this image is the very definition of elegance.

Jenny Lister, curator of the exhibition, commented: “She epitomised ‘style’ as opposed to ‘fashion’, and her appeal has remained timeless, with women today still emulating her understated chic.”

Suit worn to the Civil Ceremony - Helen Rose - ©Photo courtesy of Consulate General of Monaco, New York


Dress worn to collect her Oscar for The Country Girl in 1955 - Edith Head, 1954 - ©Photo courtesy of Consulate General of Monaco, New York


Detail of Princess Grace’s wool jersey ‘Crusader’ dress - Saint Laurent - ©Photo courtesy of Consulate General of Monaco, New York


Green wool Givenchy ensemble, worn to meet Kennedys and visit to Ireland, 1961 - ©Photo courtesy of Consulate General of Monaco, New York


Selection of Grace Kelly’s hats - Alice Delima and Jean Barthet - ©Photo courtesy of Consulate General of Monaco, New York


Laurie Guillem

Grace Kelly: Style Icon – Victoria & Albert Museum – 17th April-26th September 2010

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